Authorities try to dampen water festival celebrations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 1999, 12:00am

The New Year water festival may reveal the strong ties between the ancient cultures of Laos and Thailand but authorities in Vientiane are insisting that is where any modern similarities must stop.

In a string of thundering broadcasts, the state-controlled Lao National Radio has been urging citizens not to follow the raucous revelry that has engulfed Bangkok this week.

People have been specifically ordered not to speed in cars, soak people with water pistols, hoses and buckets or drink to excess - all hallmarks of the Bangkok celebrations set to wind down this morning.

Foreign embassies, government offices and businesses have been listed as no-go areas.

Vientiane's diplomatic and foreign aid communities have been told to avoid crowded areas such as the boozy banks of the Mekong, where a string of clubs have degenerated into watery debauchery during previous festivals.

Neighbourhood loud-speaker networks have been blaring out cultural messages seeking to preserve a festival traditionally observed by visiting the old and the gentle application of perfumed water to wash away the sins of the year past.

The messages have included appeals to Lao women to dress conservatively when visiting temples.

Vientiane sources said the campaign had made little impact so far with noisy - and wet - celebrations firmly under way.

The communist-ruled state has long sought to limit the spread of modern Thai culture across the Mekong while also keeping its other giant neighbours, Vietnam and China, at a safe distance.

However, Thai music, television and videos are increasingly popular.